Strange Brew….. (It Just Might Work for You, Too!)

Dana Johnson, Birko Brewery and Produce Specialist
ZYMURGY, January/February 2002

Germany came up with a purity law for beer in the 1500s called Reinheitsgebot, which states that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast can be used to produce commercially made beer. But I’ve always found these four ingredients are far too limiting when it comes to producing my own brew at home. After all, just imagine how creative you can be considering the myriad of flavorings, adjuncts, herbs and spices out there to explore.

In order to create new and distinctive beer flavors, I enjoy trying out different things to flavor my homebrew. From spiced teas to fruit to liqueurs, I’ve tried just about everything. Heck, I’ve even been known to throw a little breakfast cereal in the batch, just for fun! What follows are some of the more successful and repeatable things I’ve used over the years. The beers have one thing in common, they are all made with ingredients that aren’t normally associated with making beer. These are what I call Strange Brew recipes.

Post Grape Nuts Cereal

One day while brewing about 10 years ago, I happened to be looking at a box of Post Grape Nuts and noticed the ingredients on the side of the box: wheat, malted barley, salt, and yeast. Hmm… I wondered, what would happen if I added this stuff to a batch of beer? So, I tried it. Rather than put the cereal in the kettle, I steeped about a cup in a pint or so of water over low heat until the cereal was extremely mushy. Then, I strained the liquid portion into the kettle. It worked! The beer (Kolsch) had a nice flavor and attenuated nicely. I later came to realize why this is such a good thing to do; The vitamins and minerals added to the cereal act as a yeast nutrient, especially the zinc oxide. I regularly use Grape Nuts for this purpose now, and I save the spent cereal for pancakes the following day. They are very tasty indeed!

If you boil the cereal, you get a nice banana/clove flavor, by the way, so be careful. One time, I accidentally steeped too much Grape Nuts, probably almost a pound. I pitched the yeast on a summer Friday night, went to check on it Sunday night and it was done! I couldn’t believe my eyes, the yeast had flocculated out and it was definitely finished. I bottled it and was drinking the beer by the following weekend! Talk about a quick batch.

Jagermeisterbrau

I really don’t remember how I came up with this one. But I decided to add some Jagermeister Liqueur at bottling time on a batch of Oktoberfest (Marzen). The black cherry and licorice flavor imparted by the Jagermeister seemed to compliment the German-style beer quite nicely. I make this one after a long, hot summer so it will be ready for fall. The amount of Jagermeister isn’t much, only one “airline” (50 ml.) bottle at bottling time. The amount of Jagermeister is so small that it doesn’t change the amount of priming sugar required for proper carbonation. It definitely adds a subtle flavor, however, that I like.

Karo’s Light Corn Syrup

Corn sugar is pretty well known for use as an adjunct and for priming finished beer at bottling. I’ve found that Karo’s corn syrup adds something else, however. There is also vanilla and a little salt, which makes for a nice flavor, but you have to be careful not to add to much to the kettle. More than about a cup full gives the beer a funky flavor. One time, a friend of mine at work was trying to duplicate Miller MGD Light. He used a whole quart bottle of Karo’s syrup in a 5-gallon batch of light beer. It was amazing how close he came to what he was shooting for!

Celestial Seasoning Teas

A quick and easy way to flavor beer that I’ve used for years is to add Celestial Seasoning Tea after shutting off the boil. I steep the tea for about five minutes along with finishing hops, if the batch calls for it. About 5-10 bags of tea seems to work nicely for a 5-gallon batch. I fish out the tea bags before transferring the wort into the fermenter and pitching the yeast. My favorite Celestial Seasoning teas are Lemon Zinger for wheat beer, Wild Berry Zinger for making flavored porter or stouts, and one that was discontinued for making Christmas Beer was called Harvest Spice. I wish they would bring it back. Cinnamon Apple Spice works fine in its absence, however. I use it along with Orange Mango and Emperor’s Choice Tea for my Christmas beer called, “Blit-Zen”. My raspberry stout that uses 12 bags of Wild Berry Zinger is called, “Very Berry Stout.” I call my honey and Lemon Zinger beer, “Papa Beer.” In addition to an easy way to flavor beer, it is very economical, too. You have to try this!

These are the highlights of things I’ve tried over the years. Some ideas didn’t pan out so well, (like Peppermint Porter, for example) and I’ve left them out. I’m always on the look-out for fermentables or flavorings that people don’t usually put in beer. If you have something that you use for this purpose, I’d love to hear from you!